Hillsborough Sheriff's Unit Targeting Mental Health Crisis Prevention
The Behavioral Resources Unit uses Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies, mental health counselors and clinical social workers to connect individuals to resources.
In the past two years, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has responded to more than 10,000 calls involving a mental health crisis.
Of those, about 1,200 people were temporarily detained for mental health assessment under Florida's Baker Act multiple times.
That's why the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has created a Behavioral Resources Unit of made up of five specially trained behavioral health deputies, five homeless outreach deputies, and three behavioral health care managers - either a licensed mental health counselor or a licensed clinical social worker - to connect people to services before they are in crisis.
It will focus on identifying individuals who have come into contact with law enforcement numerous times due to mental health issues or homelessness.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said Monday the goal is to keep these individuals out of the criminal justice system.
“I think you're gonna see this more and more across the country,” Chronister said. “These violent interactions with law enforcement can be prevented."
Chronister said by focusing on prevention, the unit can provide these individuals with resources before 911 calls need to be made. The team hit the streets starting in July.
"We will solve this problem one person at a time. And that is exactly what our Behavioral Resources Unit is doing. Mental health issues don't discriminate. They affect people of all walks of life, and it's one of law enforcement's biggest challenges.”
During a news conference introducing the program, Chronister cited a 50-year-old man deputies have contacted more than 100 times over the past 15 years due to his mental health.
Now Behavioral Resources Unit members meets with him on a regular basis and have connected him with resources like food, clothing and shelter to help him stay healthy.
All Hillsborough deputies already take 40-hours of advanced crisis intervention training, but members of the unit will take 80 hours total. Civilian employees receive training as well.
This new unit is different from the program recently started by the St. Petersburg Police Department, which created a team of mental health experts to respond to non-criminal 911 calls.